Crowe Looking To Be Leading Man
With every home run that Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore hits, the outcry for his move down into the middle of the order to become more of a run producer becomes louder. Sizemore is one of the best leadoff hitters in the game with the ability to get on-base as well as showcase a productive, powerful bat. So, if or when the Indians ever decide to slide him out of the leadoff spot, a very capable replacement will be required.
The player to move Sizemore out of his perch in the crow's nest atop the lineup may be....wait for it....Akron outfielder Trevor Crowe.
Crowe has the ability to hit for average with some pop, but his biggest strength is his excellent plate discipline and pitch recognition skills. Crowe has a very good approach at the plate with a very advanced bat which has allowed him to be moved quickly through the farm system. He has a contagious swagger, and is a very high energy and explosive player who has an engine that never stops. Many scouts have compared Crowe to Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, and his approach makes him a potential leadoff or two-hole hitter for the Indians down the road.
Crowe's season has been plagued with injuries, but when he has played it has probably been the best baseball of his career hitting .325 with four home runs, 26 RBI, nine stolen bases and a .921 OPS in just 41 games. Crowe was unbelievable in June, hitting .400 (42-105) with 24 RBI. With his hot month of play, Crowe saw his batting average of .155 when June started climb 158 points to .313 when the month ended.
"It was definitely a good month for me and I feel like I am playing the best baseball I have ever played in my life," said Crowe in an interview last week at Canal Park. ""I just started playing well. Started seeing the ball well and putting good swings on balls. I think it was more a result of everything starting to happen my way. I started to get some breaks. Those balls that I was squaring up and just missing by an inch were turning into home runs instead of line drive singles. When I get back, I am going to keep rolling with it."
Crowe is currently out with what has been officially called an intercostal muscle pull, although Indians Farm Director Ross Atkins calls it more of a deep bruise.
"It is below his left chest in his rib cage region," said Atkins. "It is not an intercostal strain, it is more of a bruise. He is going to be fine. We are not exactly sure where the pain is coming from or what is generating the pain. It is something that is preventing him from swinging with a 100% strength left-handed, and because we are in the minor leagues and we don't have to win every day in the minors and he is not quite ready for the major leagues, we will take advantage of the disabled list and make sure he is 100% and ready to go."
Crowe initially felt the injury on the first day of their most recent road trip that started in Erie, PA on June 30th. He sat out the first game, but came back and played in the second game on July 1st as the designated hitter and was 3-for-3 in the game before being removed in the sixth inning because of the injury.
"I felt it during batting practice the first day on our road trip," said Crowe. "And then during the second game I felt it even more and had to come out of the game. And since then I just haven't been playing. Hopefully in a week or so I will be back. It is feeling better everyday, but it is just one of those slow healing things."
Talk about awful timing with the injury. Crowe's hot month of June had a lot of fans excited and believing that he was finally starting to realize his potential. But, once again the injury bug reared its ugly head again, and Crowe is once again on the disabled list. With Crowe, it has always been about health. When he is healthy, he performs very well. In 2005 he missed time with an abdominal and thumb injury, and in 2006 he missed about six weeks total as a result of an oblique and ankle injury.
In that 2006 season, Crowe was sensational and was hitting .329 with four home runs, 31 RBI, 29 stolen bases, and a .919 OPS in 60 games at Kinston by mid-June. He went down with the oblique injury, sat out for a little over three weeks and then when he was reactivated he was moved up to Akron. In his first ten games at Akron he hit .366 (15-for-41), but went down with a severe ankle sprain that sidelined him another two weeks. When he came back from the ankle injury at the beginning of August, Crowe was not the same hitter and to make matters worse the Indians began experimenting with him at second base. Crowe ended up hitting .200 (25-for-125) the last month of the season, but when the second base experiment was nixed and he was back in the outfield for the Eastern League playoffs he was his old self and hit .349 (15-for-43) with six doubles, two triples, two RBI, two stolen bases and scored 12 runs in ten playoff games.
Crowe believes if anything had an affect on his play the last month of the season in Akron in 2006 it was the position change to second base.
"I don't think it was so much the ankle [that year] as it was the position change," said Crowe. "Getting here at noon everyday for a 7 o'clock game and doing an hour of infield and then going and playing the game, I think it was more the position change because once I got to the playoffs that year I played extremely well once I was back in center field. They said 'hey, forget about second base' and all my energy went back to playing the game."
In a lot of ways Crowe has become the Adam Miller of the position player prospects where he shows all the tools and talent when he plays, but he ends up being sidelined with a nagging injury several times a year. In addition to the various injuries in 2005 and 2006 and the chest injury he is currently coming back from, Crowe was also sidelined earlier this season for about six weeks with a herniated disc in his back.
Crowe was looking to build off of his very good finish to the 2007 season where he hit .310 with 23 extra base hits and an .838 OPS from July 1st until the end of the season. He had a good spring training, but the back injury once again saw him in the training room just two games into the season and he went to extended spring training in Winter Haven, FL to rehab.
"It was hurting me during spring training, but it did not get to the point to where they had to take me out of the game until the first two games of the season," said Crowe. "I'll tell you what though, being in Winter Haven in extended will test your mental toughness because you want to be out on the field with the guys you know. It is just a different environment down there."
No doubt, one of Crowe's goals this year was to stay healthy. While that has gone by the wayside, Crowe also felt it was just as important to become a more consistent performer at the plate.
"Without a doubt," said Crowe. "Not so much consistency in numbers, but consistency in plate appearances every time I come up to bat. I mean, you could have a good at bat and a couple of those at bats you may go 0-for-4 that day. But obviously I want to be consistent every day and just maximize my talent."
Consistency has always been an issue for Crowe, and a lot of it is a result of the injuries. He always seems to have one hot half of the season and one cold half, whether it be the hot first half and cold second half in 2006, or the cold first half and hot second half of 2007.
Crowe's struggles the first few months last year was the first time as an amateur or professional athlete that he had ever experienced such adversity. For the first three months of the season, Crowe hit .212 with a .566 OPS. Crowe was so lost at the plate, the Indians sent several different hitting instructors to Akron to work with him, but the results did not change. He was putting together a lot of quality at bats and continued to get on-base drawing walks, but his problems were more mental and he just ran into some tough luck at the plate. He was pressing some, and is on record as saying he was trying to make an early impression in Akron last year since he knew he was being fast-tracked to be the eventual leadoff man in Cleveland.
Crowe's biggest problem was that he made a lot of bad swings at breaking balls early in the count, and his focus was too much on numbers and hitting home runs rather than putting the ball in play consistently, getting on-base, stealing some bases, and playing good defense. Crowe worked hard all season to try and get out of the offensive funk he was in, and often came to the park early to take extra batting practice and instruction from the coaching staff. Even when things were at their worst, Crowe stayed mentally strong and remained focused and eventually his unwavering persistence finally paid off. By midseason, he got back to the leadoff approach that made so many people rave about him as he was bunting the ball more, hitting the ball the other way, and taking what opposing pitchers were giving him and not trying to do too much.
"You know, last year I just kind of got off to a slow start and things just began to snowball on me," said Crowe. "Yeah, obviously everyone in this room wants to be big leaguers. That hasn't changed for me today, as I want to be a big leaguer this year. But, I think the one thing I learned from last year is that your full attention and energy has to be on the game at 7 o'clock no matter where you are. Whether it is Kinston, Akron or Buffalo, this is my major leagues right here."
Injuries aside, Crowe's resurgence this past June was a big shot in the arm to Akron's success and made it a lot of fun for fans to attend their games and check their box scores every night. While his health played into his good play, Crowe admits that he made a few adjustments at the plate that really helped him. But, being the cunning fox he is, he isn't about to give his secret away.
"I have made a couple small adjustments which I think have led to a lot of my success and made some things click, but I have to keep that a secret," said Crowe with a devilish grin.
When Crowe does come back from the injury here in the next week or so, one has to wonder if he will be moved up to Buffalo. While he is still in Akron rehabbing the injury, it is very possible when he is cleared to play again he could go right up to Buffalo. It is a promotion that is really long overdue for Crowe, and it is something he looks forward to.
"Yeah, obviously players think about moving up," said Crowe. "But in my eyes there are just two leagues, the minor leagues and major leagues. Right now I am in the minor leagues. So for me it is just go out and play as well as I can no matter what level I am at. I think if you look at a lot of organizations they move a lot of guys up [to the big leagues] straight from Double-A. Now, Cleveland has not been of that philosophy, but in my eyes it says